XP SP2 anyone?

I almost feel bad for the folks in Redmond. They are excoriated regularly in the press and in technical circles for the weak security in their products. The slashdot crowd is particularly vicious, but that is to be expected. Its not as if slashdot is a place where intelligent and reasoned discussions ever occur anyway (but I digress...).

So, Microsoft is attempting to make good now with the release of "Service Pack 2" for Windows XP which is supposed to fix tons of problems and close up security holes, etc etc. I think this should be considered a Good Thing. It is a huge patch that is taking some unusually bold steps (for MS, anyway) such as shutting down ports that were previously left open, installing a firewall that is enabled by default, and patching many other problems and weaknesses that they've identified. Again, this is all good, IMO, because it is moving towards the model of a mostly secured system instead of a mostly "open" system.

However, being such a big target as they are, they (MS) is taking lots of flack because in the process of locking things down, they have broken lots of 3rd party apps (50 or more according to their own website). As a software engineer that works on security stuff all the time, I can sympathise with the MS people because they had to make a tough decision and it involved a huge amount of changes. It was inevitable that some stuff would break.

There is almost always a tradeoff between really strong security and useability. Good security is hard to implement after a system is already built. Its also hard to change the mindset of the average computer user so they understand the dangers of the being attached to the internet without any protection. This is not just a Microsoft problem, as Solaris and Linux struggle to break into the desktop marketplace, developers and marketers should recognize the GOOD things that Microsoft has done (easy-to-use interface, point-and-click UI for almost everything) and combine it with the great security features that \*nix systems offer.

Finally, I think the hoopla surrounding the release of SP2 is a bit overblown and sensational. For the majority of users, this fix will do alot more good than bad and will likely not cause ANY headaches for personal users. I installed it on my families personal computer today and it caused no problems. I already have a firewall appliance and virus protection, so I can easily disable the new Windows firewall if necessary.

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